A federal judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked further work on a new border fence and barrier through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle accepted the arguments by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club that construction, which had already started, needed to be halted immediately. She concluded the organizations showed there was strong evidence of irreparable environmental damage if the project goes as planned.
The judge also noted that the Bureau of Land Management’s assessment of the effects on the environment from the project took just three weeks to complete in August, with no opportunity for public comment. Construction started less than a month later. She questioned whether federal agencies were deliberately rushing the process and the construction to get it done before anyone had a chance to object.
But Huvelle’s ruling does not mean the fence never will be built. Instead, it buys some time for the two groups to prepare legal arguments that federal agencies did not follow environmental laws in designing the nearly two-mile stretch that goes through the conservation area. The judge ultimately still could give the go-ahead to complete the work. Brian Segee, an attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said Wednesday’s decision is still a victory.
But Russ Knocke, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said his agency is convinced that, “Arizonans, and quite frankly Americans everywhere, have been clear that they want more border security.”